The Illustrated Weekly Of India, December 4, 1988. The Kehar Singh Story
THE ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA, DECEMBER 4, 1988
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
UNDER THE SHADOW OF DEATH
THE KEHAR SINGH STORY
On October 31 1984 at 9.05am, Indira Gandhi the Prime Minister of India was assassinated in her own house at 1 Safdarjung Road by two members of her bodyguard. As she was rushing to her office complex to meet actor Peter Ustinov and a TV team.
Beant Singh, a Delhi police sub-inspector and constable Satwant Singh who had laid down their guns and quietly surrendered after they shot her, were taken by members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police to their guard room, where they sat down on chairs given to them by their captors. During the next half and hour, several senior police officers came to see them.
Then, suddenly, and inexplicably, some orders were given -till today, no one knows what these orders were or who gave them – and some among the ITBP men opened fire.
Beant Singh was killed immediately, Satwant Singh, who was then only 21, survived with 12 bullet wounds. He has been in jail for the last four years facing trail for the assassination of the Prime Minister.
Curiously enough, the two men identified as having shot dead the unarmed Beant Singh – Tarsem Singh Jamwal and Ram Saran, who are as much killers in the eyes of the law – have not been brought to trial as yet. Nor have they been produced before any court, to offer eyewitness testimony in any of the three trials conducted – or, for that matter, before the commission which went into all the evidence in connection with the assassination.
Curiously enough, the findings of that commission were never made public either. Breeding, as such silence invariably does, a variety of ugly rumours – many of them damaging to the government in power, led by Mrs Gandhi’s elder son, Rajiv.
A murder is a murder. But, again, oddly enough, neither of the two ITBP Commandos responsible for the killing of Beant Singh have been prosecuted or tried. And, last week, Satwant Singh lost yet another legal battle when his plea that his execution be stayed till these two men were tried was rejected by metropolitan magistrate, R K Gauba, who argued in his 23-page order that since the Special Investigation Team that went into the matter had made out no case against Jamwal and Ram Saran and its investigation were “above board” and “absolutely free from any objectionable features or infirmities” he was vacating the stay against the execution of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, the condemned prisoners. This means that even before this story appears, both men may be dead.
Justice G L Oza, commenting on the murder of Indira Gandhi, describes its heinousness as “an unarmed lady was attacked by these two persons with a series of bullets”. True. But it also happens to be true that both Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were unarmed and seated, surrounded by a crack team of ITBP commandos – rated to be among the best in the land when they were shot, at, at point-blank range. But let that pass.
Later, two more people got drawn inti the trial. They were accused of being involved in the conspiracy to murder Mrs Gandhi. One, Balbir Singh. Also a sub-inspector in the Delhi police, assigned to the prime minister’s bodyguard. The other was Kehar Singh, an assistant in the directorate general of supplies and disposals in New Delhi. Both were arrested illegally and held illegally, long before they were produced in court officially.
Balbir Singh was arrested on November 1 – one day before the assassination and before any investigations had been initiated. He was held illegally by the police in the Yamuna Velodrome and his formal arrest was shown as December 3, more then a month later! This, the Supreme Court has acknowledged and commented on unfavourably while acquitting Balbir Singh of any complicity in the murder and throwing out the case against him some weeks back The court also suggested, albeit discreetly, that the SIT had been fabricating evidence in Balbir Singh’s case.
Kehar Singh – about whom our story is – was simply picked up by the police on November 2, again well before any investigation had started. He, too, was taken to the Yamuna Velodrome – obviously a favourite recreation centre of the Delhi police – and the much dreaded Red Fort, where he was interrogated “unofficially” – and you know what that usually means – for a full month. His actual arrest was shown as December 5. This is the evidence that has been given by both men and their defence counsel. Why do we believe it?
The reason is simple. When a man is arrested on suspicion of even pickpocketing, the police usually ask the court for custody of the suspect – so that they can interrogate the person and try to find out the facts of the case, the government prosecutor asks for judicial remand – that the suspect be sent to jail pending trial.
In the case of Kehar Singh, he was presumed to have been arrested on the day he was produced in court. There was no evidence at that stage against him – other than a pamphlet that had been presumed to have be found in his unlocked office table drawer, which was later dismissed by the Supreme Court on the ground that it was found after his arrest. Yet, the police did not even ask for one day’s police custody. They asked for judicial remand straightaway. What does this suggest? The obvious. The police had already interrogated him.
In the meantime, Beant Singh’s widow had also been taken away illegally and kept in the Yamuna Velodrome – the same sports centre where Balbir Singh and Kehar Singh were also held – for two months by the police till she agreed to come as a prosecution witness.
The trial went to the sessions court. Satwant Singh was found guilty under Section 302, 120B, 307, of the Arms Act 54, 56, 59. Balbir Singh was found guilty of conspiring to murder Mrs Gandhi. So was Kehar Singh. The defendants went, in appeal, to the high court. In the meantime, a commission presided over by Justice M P Thakkar, a sitting member of the Supreme Court, was constituted to find out whether there had actually been a conspiracy to kill the prime minister or if it was just the doing of two individuals. It seems impossible for the government to believe, as Balbir Singh said after his acquittal, that “the assassination of the prime minister of a country was the work of a mere sub-inspector and a constable”. Prone as we always are to complex theories of conspiracy, and the belief that nothing is ever as simple as it looks.
So, in addition to the commission, a Special Investigation Team was formed under S Anantram, a retired IPS officer, who went in a independent investigation – hoping to unearth that the would have escaped the attention of the commission and the usual investigating bodies that were hoping to unravel the plot behind the assassination. After all, the murder of a prime minister was no small matter and everyone was hoping to scoop the real story.
While all this was going in, the trial began. Having a commission and a trial in court simultaneously was, in any case, against all the canons of justice – but more strange was that Satwant Singh was not called upon even once to testify before it. In spite of his repeated entreaties that he be allowed to appear before the commission since it was examining evidence that related to him and his case, which was before the courts.
The commission wound up its in camera proceedings another departure from the practice regarding commissions and Justice M P Thakkar, after examining 220 witnesses, wrote a two part report. The first part was finalised in November 1985, a year after the assassination, and the second part in February 1986. The government promptly suppressed the report. Till today, no one knows why.
Even Giani Zail Singh, who was then the president if India, was refused a copy. Subsequently, the report predictably became a political weapon in the hands of the government and the opposition. When the Giani became difficult to handle, the ruling partly leaked stories to the “friendly” press that the report implicated the President in the assassination plot, a wholly unlikely possibility that, however, greatly embarrassed Zail Singh. On the other hand, the Opposition kept the report in the news by insinuating that Arun Nehru, by then estranged from Rajiv, had a copy of the document, which he was about to release at any moment to the consternation of the ruling party. This ensured a steady flow of journalists to Nehru’s house, who were promptly fed other anti-Rajiv stories and promised the document at a later date. In any case, the commission report never reaches the public. Even the most conscientious journalists couldn’t lay their hands on a copy. And all they could do was speculate on what it had to say. And everyone had a different idea.
Meanwhile, the trial carried on. A bench of three high court judges, of whom the presiding judge was Justice S Ranganathan, found all three accused guilty of the same charges as the sessions court did. No mention was made of any commission report. The case was then brought to the Supreme Court. What happened in the highest court in the land? Satwant Singh was convicted and sentenced to hang. Balbir Singh was acquitted and the Supreme Court recorded the strong finding that the prosecution’s story which, mind you, had been swallowed wholesale by a session judge and three high court judges, the presiding judge among whom was soon promotes to the Supreme Court was an insult to common sense. In substance, the Supreme Court said that the case was false and concocted by the police. And Balbir Singh was set free. Kehar Singh, however, was convicted of conspiracy to murder under section 120B and sentenced to hang. The evidence against him was even more slender than that against Balbir Singh, be totally circumstantial in nature. Yet he was not freed. Could it be that the judge felt it would destroy the credibility of the government and the police force if they acquitted two out of the three people held guilty of the murder of Mrs Gandhi? That they chose to uphold a system rather than save the life of an innocent man? No, we are not saying that is what actually happened. We are asking a hypothetical question. Now, let’s look at the facts before us. Before we begin, let us be clear about a few things.
One:We hold the view that the assassination of the prime minister was a heinous crime, whatever may be the reason behind it.
Two:We respect the judicial system in the country and we believe that, under usual circumstances, it is far and just. The problem starts when politicians try to tamper with it.
Now, let’s examine the facts. It is clear and the courts have also acknowledged this that all the evidence against Kehar Singh is circumstantial. There is no hard, conclusive proof of his involvement in any conspiracy.
Now, the law on using or interpreting circumstantial evidence is well settled. It says:
- Facts and circumstances that have been established should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but must be entirely incompatible with his innocence.
- Such facts and circumstances must exclude every reasonable hypothesis consistent with his innocence.
- The facts and circumstances from which conclusion of guilt is sought to be drawn by the prosecution must be fully established beyond all doubt.
How has the prosecution established that Kehar Singh was a conspirator in the plot to assassinate the prime minister? Here are all the facts and circumstances presented by them before the courts:
- Kehar Singh came from the same village as Beant Singh. The two families were in visiting terms.
- Kehar Singh and his family went along with Beant Singh and his family to Amritsar, and visited the Golden Temple.
- Kehar Singh and his family and Beant Singh and his family attend the birthday party of the grandchild of an acquaintance, where a religious discourse was delivered.
- Kehar Singh persuaded Beant Singh to undergo the Amrit Chhakna ceremony twice, to make him into a fanatic.
- Kehar Singh and Beant Singh talked alone together for 15 minutes in Beant Singh’s home. Beant Singh’s wife was in the kitchen preparing food.
- Several hours after the assassination when Kehar Singh was told of the event, he remarked in Punjabi “Whoever would take confrontation with the Panth would meet the same fate.”
That is the sum total of the evidence. From this evidence, the prosecution deduces that Kehar Singh converted Beant Singh to religious bigotry, by taking him undergo the Amrit Chhakna or Holy Water ceremony later in Delhi. That, in fact, the conspiracy was hatched during the visit to the Golden Temple and that Kehar Singh had taken Beant Singh to Amritsar for the express purpose of persuading him to commit the crime, and that Satwant Singh was to join them there as part of the mission. Let us examine these facts and find out if they ring true.
Kehar Singh does not come from the same village as Beant Singh. His wife’s father and Beant Singh’s grandfather were brothers. Both families were linked, therefore, by kinship and were on visiting terms for years. By the same logic, are the patients of Dr Jain, the eye surgeon who murdered his wife co-conspirators? Or the village jaatbhais of Nathuram Godse, who shot the father of the nation? Even the wife of Beant Singh has not been indicted as a conspirator. So why pick on Kehar Singh alone? The two families had been given government accommodation and, as chance would have it, the house allotted to them were fairly close to each other. Coming from the same background, staying within visiting distance, considering the kinship between Kehar Singh’s wife’s family and Beant Singh’s family, who came from the same village, it would have been strange if the two families did not meet.
The main accusation is that Kehar Singh and Beant Singh went to the Golden Temple together. Yes, but this visit could well be taken out of context, to mean different things to different people, depending on whether they want to hold Kehar Singh guilty of conspiracy or not. Let us, for instance, look at the testimony of M R Singh, an officer in the Corporation Bank of Amritsar, who, mind you, testified for the prosecution. According to M R Singh, Kehar Singh belongs to the same village as M R Singh’s mother and was called Nanaji by him. Kehar Singh, according to his testimony, decided that the unmarried sister of Bimal (the wife of Beant Singh) should get married to M R Singh, who was single. So he proposed that the boy be inspected by Beant Singh. So Beant Singh took his wife and three children and asked Kehar Singh and his wife to accompany them. Both the families bought not inly rail tickets to Amritsar but confirmed tickets back for the next day. There, in Amritsar, they stayed with M R Singh. They found two good looking nurses were also staying in his house. No, they did not want a boy like that for Bimal’s sister. On his part, the boy said: Talk to my father. So, since that matter had been decided, they thought of going to the Golden Temple. The Darbar Sahib. Not a very unusual thought, given the religiosity of most Sikhs. So, say M R Singh, “a friend of mine, Nirmal Singh, Shri Kehar Singh, Mrs Kehar Singh, Beant Singh, Mrs Beant Singh, and the three children of Beant Singh, all went to Darbar Sahib. After, about one-and-a-half hours, i went to the Darbar Sahib and then all of us returned at about 9.30pm from there.” Does this sound like a group of conspirators or a family out on a sight seeing tour to a religious place? But let’s go on. What happened after that? Both families spent the night at M R Singh’s place the next morning Kehar Singh expressed his desire to go early to the temple to hear the Asa-diwar-kirtan, as the songs of the dawn are called. Beant Singh went along. Soon after presumably as soon as the children were ready, this is what M R Singh did, “i took Mrs Kehar Singh, Mrs Beant Singh and the three children to Darbar Sahib. All of us had our tea and took our baths there. At11 o’clock, Shri Beant Singh stayed back in Darbar Sahib while all of us (Kehar, both wives and children) came back to my house and had lunch. Then i took them to the railway station and left them there. Shri Beant Singh met us at the railway station and they returned from Amritsar by the Flying Mail. They had informed me that they had reservations of their seats in the Flying Mail.”
Even at the Golden Temple, the two men were not together, according to Bimal Khalsa’s testimony for the prosecution, Beant Singh went up stairs, leaving Kehar Singh with the families. Does this sound like a conspiracy? Wives, children, outsiders all are included in the tour programme. If Kehar Singh had taken Beant Singh to Amritsar, to convert him to fanaticism, would he have included his family and a marriage proposal at the same time? Would he and Beant have confirmed their return reservations for the very next day – being so sure that all facets of the conspiracy would be worked out within the compulsions of the Bradshaw? Were the two men ever together for any length of time? They went early in the morning to hear the dawn choir in the temple, but they were joined almost immediately by the rest of the family and a stranger. They bathed. They ate. And Kehar Singh returned with his and Beant’s family, minus Beant.
For a Sikh to go to Amritsar and not visit the Golden Temple is as unthinkable as a Hindu going to Hardwar and not visiting a temple or a Roman Catholic visiting Rome without seeing the Vatican. Added to that is the fact that Kehar Singh is a religious person. He has been visiting gurdwaras for most of his life. He has often done Juta Seva there: cleaning the shoes of visitors. So for him to visit the Golden Temple or attend its dawn choir was not out of the ordinary in any way. To read more into it is to perhaps presume his guilt. Was Satwant Singh supposed to meet them there, to further cement the conspiracy? According to the confession made by Satwant Singh for the police, and used in court against him, he knew nothing of the visit. He did not even know Kehar Singh. But the court, in its wisdom, chose to sum up the visit of both families to the Golden Temple as birds of a feather flying together. And that axiom is considered enough to establish Kehar Singh’s guilt on this count of conspiracy with Beant Singh to murder the prime minister.
Next, Kehar Singh and Beant Singh and their families attended a birthday party of a grandchild of Ujagar Singh Sandhu in September 1984. A religious discourse was delivered. According to the prosecution, “provocative bhajans” were sung by other people. There is a video tape of the event. Does it show either Kehar Singh or Beant Singh or their families taking part in these “provocative bhajans”, whatever that may mean? No. Beant Singh and his wife had not been invited. Kehar Singh took them along anyway. Is there any evidence to show that Kehar Singh took them there, knowing that there would be “provocative bhajans” at the birthday party of a child? Even circumstantial evidence should be firm, clear cut and precise, “There may not be any such evidence. But it is not non sequitur when one takes an uninvited guest to such a function in the circumstances of the case,” says the honourable court. What function? A child’s birthday party! Could it have happened that the Beant Singhs dropped in and the Kehar Singhs said listen, we have to go to this birthday party, so why don’t you come along? Is this proof of the involvement of Kehar Singh in a conspiracy to murder Indira Gandhi?
Kehar Singh dropped in to see Beant Singh on October 17 and the two talked alone for 15 to 18 minutes, Bimal Khalsa was in the kitchen. When she came out with their conversation. They did not inform her as to what they had talked about and she didn’t hear a word of what they said, “it plainly indicates that Kehar Singh and Beant Singh were combined and conspiring together,” concludes the court. This is the main piece of “evidence” against Kehar Singh. The fact that he said something and heard something and no one knows what! “These talks go a long way in establishing Kehar Singh being a party to the conspiracy,” says the court.
What talks? The witness on whose testimony the entire case against Kehar Singh rests is Bimal Khalsa, who was illegally detained by the police for two long months. But even in her testimony nowhere does she say that Kehar Singh instigated Beant Singh.
In her letter to the President of India, Bimal Khalsa says:“My statement (about the conversation taking place between the two men) in the trial is definitely of no substance. I am sorry that the Supreme Court has attributed everything to me statement. The Supreme Court has inferred a conspiracy from the 15 minute talk between two male relations by excluding a woman. The women are often kept aside by the menfolk even while discussing a small family matter. Is it rational to attribute9 this meeting of two male relations of conspiring to murder Indira Gandhi? If only a meeting with Beant Singh is the standard for the conspiracy then perhaps i am the first one. Because most of the time i remained with him and also shared my nights in his bed. Kehar Singh is totally innocent, I feel he is substituted to face the gallows in the absence of my husband.” What is her precise testimony on this meeting of October 17?
Prosecutor:While you were cooking meals in the kitchen, Beant Singh and Kehar Singh were talking to each other in low tones?
Bimal Khalsa:How should i know when i was in the kitchen?
According to the case for the prosecution and they have produced witnesses to this effect, Beant Singh declared in the first week of August itself that he would not let Indira Gandhi unfurl the flag on Independence Day. The court appears to accept this as well as the quite contradictory, and inconclusive, evidence that is supposed to prove that Kehar Singh was trying to persuade Beant Singh on October 17 to assassinate the prime minister! Evidence that even the person it is attributed to Bimal Khalsa, rejects as totally unacceptable.
What is clinching circumstantial evidence offered by the prosecution? That Beant Singh took Amrit on October 14, 1984, at the instance of Kehar Singh. The inference is that Kehar Singh made Beant Singh go through this ceremony to tighten his resolve to assassinate the prime minister. There are two problems in this hypothesis, however. Problems that the prosecution has no convincing answers to.
One:Did Beant Singh take Amrit on October 14 at all?
Two:Was he made to do so by Kehar Singh?
What is the Amrit Chhakna ceremony? The Sikh drinks holy water blessed by the kirpan at the hands of the Panj Pyaras in a gurdwara and undergoes a small ceremony that is the equivalent of the Roman Catholic’s confession and purification/baptism ceremony. It cleanse him and makes him pure. The ceremony is a public one, attended usually by dozens of people. Not a single witness has been found at the gurdwara in Sector IV, R K Puram in New Delhi to corroborate the incident. But the prosecution still insists that it took place! How did Kehar Singh come into it? Well, he wasn’t there at the gurdwara on October 14. But Beant Singh gave him his kara, the bracelet all Sikhs wear and ring before he underwent the ceremony. Where were those items, the kara and the ring – found? In Beant Singh’s own house!
According to Bimal Khalsa, on October 31, the day of the assassination, the police raided her quarters(in her absence) and took away – among other things, the kara and the ring, without signing for them. In the presence of Beant Singh’s mother who, being illiterate, did not know that they were supposed to sign for anything they took away from the house. No wonder, the prosecution declares her a hostile witness at that stage.
In his confession, Satwant Singh said that he and Beant Singh took Amrit on October 24 – the day he first heard about Beant Singh’s resolve to murder Indira Gandhi, and decided to join him. Kehar Singh was not even there. Satwant Singh’s story falsifies the prosecution story that Kehar Singh had anything to do with either the imaginary Amrit ceremony on October 14 or the actual one on October 24. But what does the court say? “It is true that there is no substantive evidence from the testimony of Bimal Khalsa that Beant Singh took Amrit on October 14, 1984 at the instance of Kehar Singh. Nonetheless Kehar Singh must have been present and must have been present and must have played a significant part in the taking of Amrit by Beant Singh.” No evidence. No deposition. No witnesses. No kara. No ring. In short, no nothing except conjecture and supposition.
Finally, the prosecution’s last nail in the coffin. When Kehar Singh is told of Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, he is heard to remark “Whoever would take confrontation with the Panth would meet the same fate.”
From this remark, the court establishes that “he was cognisant of all the details of the coming tragedy and waiting to receive the news on that fateful day.” The language of this sentence alone is partisan. “This remark shows his guilty mind with that of Beant Singh” says the Supreme Court. Does it actually?
Was Kehar Singh the only one in India who said it?
After Operation Bluestar, it was uppermost in everybody’s mind. It was a subject of cocktail party conversation even, that Indira Gandhi had invited some form of revenge from the Sikhs for not only entering the temple, but for entering it on a festival day so that a large number of innocent pilgrims were killed in the crossfire between the terrorists and the army.
It was as much a subject of discussion among the Hindus as it was among the minorities, the Muslims and the Christians. Of course, every Sikhs discussed it. It was inevitable. Whatever the provocations may have been for Operation Bluestar and we are convinced, like most others, that they were indeed grievous – few Sikhs could have ignores what was ostensibly a sacrilegious act. In the light of that, should we read too much into Kehar Singh’s comments?
Surely, the matter was also being discussed in the prime minister’s family. Rajiv Gandhi is often quoted to have said that he had asked for the removal of certain Sikhs guards on an apprehension that they might not be “safe”. How many first reactions of responsible members of the Opposition were also fatalistic – “We know this would happen sooner or later”. ” She who rides a tiger…..”, etc, etc? Did they all have prior knowledge of the conspiracy?
People all over India, looking at the terrorist assault, say the same thing about the present prime minister and the millions spent on his security bear witness to the fact that he is also aware of the possibility of an attack on his person. Is everyone in India guilty of foreknowledge, by is argument?
What does the Supreme Court argument against Kehar Singh say? It goes so far as to admit that “The finding of guilt recorded by the high court against Kehar Singh is a mixture of both relevant and irrelevant evidence adduced by the prosecution.” So the Supreme Court rejected half the conclusions in which the high court convicted Kehar Singh. As a result, it was left with just a handful of points.
One,they went to Amritsar together.
Two,Bimal Khalsa says they spoke together, in private, (On Bimal Khalsa’s often contradictory evidence, the Supreme Court says, “Her statement could not be discarded in Toto merely because on certain questions she has chosen not to support the prosecution.” Does this mean that inly selective use of her statements, only those that support the case against Kehar Singh will be made? But she doesn’t know what was said!
Three,Beant Singh went to a gurdwara to take Amrit, supposedly at the instigation of Kehar Singh. (On that, the Supreme Court rules; “So far as the Amrit Chakkna ceremony is concerned or taking Amrit is concerned, ordinarily it may not be significant. It is only a ceremony wherein a Sikh takes a vow to lead a life of purity and giving up all worldly pleasures and evil habits but this unfortunately is a situation that could be understand in different ways.”
In Balbir Singh’s case, a document, was introduced into court by the police as having been found on him.
It starts”June 1984, Army operation, Felt like killing…” The judgment dealing with his says, “There is no reference to killing of the prime minister. In fact except for a ‘felt like killing’ in early June as an immediate reaction to the Bluestar Operation, even the manifestation of this feeling does not exist anywhere in the subsequent part of the document. The document refers to bare meetings (with Beant Singh and Satwant Singh), visits of persons or visiting someone’s house. It is however not possible to find out to whom the document was intended to be used.”
The court rightly deduces that if the document did not clarify killing whom, it was of no meaning. But, in Kehar Singh’s case, a conversation that no one heard is taken as proof! A kara and ring found in Beant Singh’s own house is supposed to have been given to Kehar Singh and is taken as proof of his guilt – even though it was proved not to have been given to him! A bare visit of his to Beant Singh’s house becomes proof of his complicity!
The judgement of Justice Jagannatha Shetty says; “Generally a conspiracy is hatched in secrecy and it may be difficult to adduce direct evidence of the same. The prosecution will often rely on evidence of acts of various parties to infer that they were done in reference to their common intention. The prosecution will also more often rely on circumstantial evidence. The conspiracy can be undoubtedly proved by such evidence, direct or circumstantial. But the court must inquire whether two persons are independently pursuing the same and or they have come together to the pursuit of the unlawful object. The former does not render them conspirators, but the latter does. It is however, essential that the offence of conspiracy requires some kind of physical manifestation of agreement. The express agreement, however, need not be proved. Nor actual meeting of two persons is necessary. Nor is it necessary to prove the actual words of communication. The evidence as to transmission of thoughts sharing the unlawful design may be sufficient.”
Even in as loose an interpretation as that, is there evidence to prove Kehar Singh’s and Beant Singh’s “transmission of thoughts sharing the unlawful design”? Even the main witness, Bimal Khalsa, repeatedly denies Kehar Singh’s involvement. She has gone on record saying that her husband told her months before – in July, that he was going to become shaheed – a martyr – but he never disclosed his plans to her or to anyone else at any stage, “It is correct that the determination was his and of his own accord,” she says.
What has Kehar Singh actually done to justify a charge of conspiracy? He was a penpusher, a 53 year old man working as an assistant in the directorate general of supplies and disposals in New Delhi. A man who came from a scheduled caste background and yet rose steadily through government ranks to reach the modest position of a clerk. A man who spent a large part of his life in service at the gurdwara and in prayer. A man who married a widow and gave her children a decent life. Did he supply arms to these police guards? Did he tell them about dates, times and entries for the assassination? Was he in any position to know anything useful? Both assassins were employed at the place itself and both had their own guns and, according to Satwant Singh’s confession, both planned the date themselves. So what did Kehar Singh actually do in this conspiracy?
The whole case, over these past few years, has been a focus of uneasy comment by members of judicial profession. The fact that it was held in camera; e fact that the defence was not allowed to see the Thakkar Commission report, which speculation has it, may be contrary to the prosecution’s case; the fact of Attinder Pal Singh’s arrest and his statement that the conspiracy had other people in it – after which he has been kept incommunicado. These, and so much more important and not so important points are being debated every day in the dark corridors of courtrooms. Doubts p3rsist.
Shadows grow around evidence. Stories start making the rounds. Kehar Singh’s life is important. Not only because there is the life of an individual involved. But because the Sikh community feels almost as a whole that fair play and justice are being denied to him. And, thereby to the community as a whole so closely have they been identified with the crime. But leave aside the Sikh community. There are thousands of people like us, who believe that the crime committed – the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a heinous act and needs to be punished with the greatest severity possible and yet feel that justice must be done all the way through. An innocent man must not hang, at any cost. A man whose guilt has not been proved convincingly must not be punished just because the crime was so heinous that we need a symbolic gesture. Kehar Singh’s case has been followed was closely by millions of people and it appears to many of them that suspicion and guesswork have taken the place of hard unflinching evidence. The search for a guilty man has zeroed in on someone who may or may not be truly involved
In Sunil Batra’s case, where the boy shot a guard on no provocation and in cold blood, he was given life sentence and released eventually. Dr Jain hired killers and actually watched them kill his wife. He was given life imprisonment. Nathuram Godse’s brother, indicted for conspiracy to kill Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, was given life imprisonment and released some years back. Did Kehar Singh do any single thing? No, concedes the Supreme Court, this he has patently not done. Then, is he to be hung for the crime of his wife coming from the same village as the assassin and remaining a family friend of someone who was crazy enough to kill the prime minister of India? How, then is the State different from the terrorist who kills on the same unfounded suspicious? How can the State escape the charge from human rights organisations that this is sheer vendetta, motivated by the search for a fall guy? The case lies before the President of India. Let him talk to jurists of eminence and recognised honesty and then take his decision. He alone can rise above political compulsions and decide whether it is more important to hang a man on suspicion of conspiracy or to uphold the highest traditions of justices that we, as a nation, are rightly proud of. Whether we want to heal the wounds in Punjab or push for retribution and revenge. Kehar Singh is not the issue any more. Not just justice done. But justice seen to be done.